Author: Clients in Action

Charlie’s Charming Cars

Watt a way to have fun!

American comedian, Mitch Hedberg, once said:  “I know a lot about cars, man. I can look at any car’s headlights and tell you exactly which way it’s coming.”

We may well chuckle at his humour, comforting ourselves in the thought that at least our knowledge of cars extends beyond that.  However, when it comes to collecting and restoring classic motor vehicles, there is a whole new world to discover.  Chartered client, Charlie Watt, having recently retired, has found a new love … in the form of a 1969 Mustang: Fastback Mach 1 Cobra, and a 1960 Chevrolet Corvette – both true classics.

Muscling in on motor magic

“I have always liked powerful V8s,” says Charlie.  “Now I have the time to get involved in collecting and restoring.”  According to Charlie, collecting vintage vehicles – or ‘muscle cars’ as they are known in the USA – has become big business worldwide.  “It is a huge industry,” says Charlie, “with any spare part needed to restore any vehicle readily available from the
original manufacturer.”

The fun lies in the sourcing, buying and working on these vehicles.  Good quality collectables are scarce, since loving owners are reluctant to part with their prized cars.  An additional challenge is the cost of the vehicles, which has escalated with the rand being weak.  The basic price of a 1960 Corvette was $3,875 in the USA. Currently, you can buy the same car in the USA for between $60,000 and $100,000.

“These special cars come onto the market sporadically,” Charlie comments.  “I had been searching for the very rare Corvette for over a year, when I found one online and wasted no time in flying to Cape Town to purchase it.  The Mustang I bought from a friend in Johannesburg who had owned it for over 30 years, who needed to make space for his newest purchase.”

The real deal

The issue of space is what places a constraint on Charlie’s continuing to acquire additional collector’s pieces: each car means another garage! Besides that, Charlie is well occupied with restoring the Mustang.  “The challenge is to keep the car as authentic as possible, as close to the original look, but to make technical improvements that make the driving experience more enjoyable, like power steering; braking and engine performance have improved dramatically in
the past few decades.”

The value of these cars lies in their originality – each car has its own VIN number, or “ID”. This can verify year and place of manufacture, engine size, colour, and so on. This is available on-line. So, Charlie’s advice to the aspirant collector is to be discerning.  “Do research into the pedigree of the car.”  Also be aware of the costs of restoration – spare parts have to be imported from the USA.”

Collector community

Many enthusiasts are willing to give advice to the novice collector, Charlie reassures us. In addition, there are various clubs to which you can belong, and events that you can attend that make the collecting a social occasion, as you mix with people who have the same passion.  The Mustang Club, for example, celebrated its 50th Anniversary in March this year, by hosting a display of over 60 magnificent classic cars at Melrose Arch.  Rallies and meetings are held throughout the year by these clubs.

“I mostly use my cars over the weekends, where we enjoy an outing to a breakfast or lunch,” says Charlie.

From the look of the cars, it is easy to see how collecting and restoring them can become a passion!

Let us know if you are a collector of exceptional items.  We would love to share it with our other clients.

Nepal – Saving the Best for Last!

Logically, destination Nepal should have followed on after leaving India, but having communicated with a local Kathmandu tour operator, still from home, I was told that June is not the best of months to visit and trek, unless of course I wanted to venture into the Trans-Himalayan Mustang. He had given me the itinerary of a very tempting 21 day tour into that area, but at 3000US$ my shoe-string budget did not allow for such extravagance.

Oh well, I had no intention of slopping around in the monsoon rains, so struck Nepal off my bucket-list for the moment. Then, as providence would have it, I decided to extend my adventure by a further month or so, and being blown away by photos taken by my young travel companion Horacio, while he was in this country, Nepal became the natural conclusion to my travels, before finally heading home again.

Even after nearly 8 months of travelling, where you might think not much can phase me
anymore, the thought of arriving at Kathmandu airport after dark did seem a tad daunting, especially when one of the travel blogs I read made the arrivals procedure seem quite nerve-racking. But then again, it was written 2 years ago, and even at a backwater airport like Kathmandu immigration procedures have improved by leaps and bounds.

My very first impression of Kathmandu and Nepal was of extreme friendliness and helpfulness. With the first Namaste I immediately started relaxing. My Air Asia flight from Kuala Lumpur was not very full, so it meant that queues were acceptable. Instead of having to fill in a visa application form there were a few state of the art scanning machines into which you fed the main page of your passport, and then had to enter a few particulars like length of stay and an address in Nepal, e-mail address on a touch screen, and with the press of the Enter button you were issued a receipt with which you then joined a queue where you paid the relevant visa fee for your length of stay in any major foreign currency (I paid 40US$ for a 30 day visa) and then joined the 30 day queue that issued the actual visa. No longer the need to produce a passport picture, as they had it via the scanned passport page. All very nifty, I thought!! All in all I was out of there in a matter of less than an hour. By that stage my luggage had probably gone around the conveyer belt a few times.

I had sent an e-mail to the hotel I had booked a room at to request transport from the airport, so as to avoid running the gauntlet of touts at the exit, and although I had not received a confirmation, sure enough my little taxi was there and waiting. I had befriended a young Spaniard, Oliver, in the arrivals hall who shared the transport into downtown Thamel, which was a bonus. The official taxi counter charges 700 Nepali Rupees for a trip (that’s roughly 80ZAR) which was what the hotel also charged me, and I assume you probably could have bartered a reduced fee on the streets but was it worth the bother?

On the trip into town Oliver told me about having completed a 30 day/900+ km Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in June, so guess what has just been added to Syb’s Bucketlist??
Thamel is the heart of Backbacker/Trekker Heaven, and it was heaving when we scooted through the narrow lanes to get to my hotel. Even though this was after 9 pm at night. The energy in this town was palpable, and even on the first night here I knew I was going to love this place.

Ambling through the dusty streets of Thamel the following day, you could see that tourism contributes a huge percentage to the Nepali economy, and that trekking and any activity relating to the Himalayas must be the biggest draw card.

Every second shop offers “genuine” North Face, Merrill, Mammut, Salamon, Jack Wolfskin backpacks, down jackets, sleeping bags, hiking boots replicas of differing quality and then locally knitted socks, scarves, hats and gloves and then of course any other tourist paraphernalia that makes any hardcore shopper’s heart skip, but besides buying a water bottle, new socks and a quick drying towel (which I hate!) I managed to contain myself.
Once past all the shops I also managed to see lots of other wonderful parts of Kathmandu.

menContrary to what I thought, Nepal is in fact mainly Hindu.

One of the main reasons I had chosen The Trekkers Home as my hotel of choice in Kathmandu was because of the glowing reports that I had read in my bible, Trip Advisor, about Dip(endra) the young (27!!) owner/manager of the establishment, and let me tell you, he did not disappoint!! With the enthusiasm of a true entrepreneur and professional he planned and arranged the next 11 days of my Nepal adventure. Here’s his itinerary:Transport (plus lunch) in a tourist bus to Pokhara – the starting point,of all treks into the Annapurna district.

A personal guide to accompany from Kathmandu and on a 5 day trek.One nights accommodation in a really pleasant hotel in Pokhara. The 5 day trek including accommodation in tea/guest houses in the Annapurna foothills. Then a further 3 days accommodation in Pokhara so as to relax and sightsee after the trek. Transport from Pokhara to the Chitwan Nature Reserve. 3 days/2 nights sojourn in said Chitwan Nature Reserve and then transport back to Kathmandu.

And all this for the princely sum of the equivalent of 580US$! Now you try and do better than that!

Have to quickly share a memorable evening at the Rum Doodle Restaurant with my readers.
Rum Doodle is the fictitious 40 000 and 1/2 foot highest mountain in the world of a little humorous novella “The Ascent of Rum Doodle” written by an English author, W.E. Bowman in the 1950s.

The restaurant named after said mountain is frequented by any trekker/mountaineer worth his/her oats and to commemorate the trek you are given a foot to sign which is then hung from the ceiling in honour of your endevours.

There is a huge wall with signatures of all the Everest summiteers, even the great Sir Ed is immortalized, and as I was on my own that evening I had a chance to study many a signature and I stand in awe of this ultimate of mountaineering achievements! I on the other hand was not going to attempt anything quite so bold, so decided to head to the beautiful lakeside town of Pokhara from which most treks into the Annapurna Range of the Himalayas begin.

The 5 day loop that I was going on seemed to be the most popular route and although I was trekking solo with my young guide Ram I was by no means ever on my own, and there was a constant stream of fellow Trekkers to chat to and exchange the usual mountain banter. There were folk from all parts of the world and what I found so refreshing was that at least half of them were of a similar age to me. There were teahouses dotted all along the mountain paths and the villages have expanded tremendously over the years to offer basic accommodation to this ever growing onslaught of tourists. We passed scores of porters carrying not only heavy packs for the long term trekkers to Annapurna Base Camp but provisions to these inaccessible and remote settlements.

routeThe 5 day circuit from Nayapul to Ulleri (day1) Ghorepani (day2) Tadipani (day3) Seuli Bazar (day4) and back to Nayapul (day5)

On day 3 we rose before it got light, donned jackets, gloves and headlamps and headed up to the 3200 meter Poon Hill (yes, in Nepal 3200m is considered a hill!) to experience sunrise over the Annapurna Range. It was achingly beautiful and my little point-and-shoot will never do this splendor any justice.

Day 4 was probably the most difficult for me, mainly because it was unrelenting downhill all the way, and bless Ram, my guide, who held my hand every step of the way and steadied me and made sure I came to no harm. Thank you, my young friend!


I felt quite heartsore having to say farewell to Ram after spending 5 days in his gentle company, and he is a fine example of the warm and friendly Nepalese that I have so far encountered. They have surely contributed to making this my favourite destination.

Restock in Bangkok

This will be my third blog that I will have penned in Bangkok, which has become a bit of a safecavehaven in between all my crazy travels. It gives me time to reflect and to gather myself for the next leg, it gives me a chance to have my hair cut, have a facial and interact with fellow South Africans, of which I have not met one single one in the last two months traversing Cambodia, Laos or Vietnam (do South Africans not travel, or was I just on a road less travelled?)

Although I like to remain flexible as to destinations and time frames, I had committed myself to fly back to Bangkok from Ho Chi Minh City on the 4th of September, so as to meet with my friend Anthea who was coming to Thailand on a family holiday, and who had agreed to bring my stash of chronic meds for the two months I had decided to extend my trip by. All of a sudden I realized that this would only give me 2 weeks in Vietnam, which meant I had to prioritize which parts of Vietnam I wanted to see.

I was not going to make it up north to Sapa due to my own stupidity and after seeing Nam Phong’s recent FB pictures (of which I have stolen one – thanks Phong!) that omission did disappoint me. Nam Phong was our brilliant tour guide that took us through this beautiful country 2 years ago.

Nam Phong’s recent FB pictures

Sybs on the train

Vinh was forgettable, but enroute to Hoi An I saw that my trusted Lonely Planet recommended the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, where they had only very recently discovered the largest cave system in the world, and after reading glowing reviews on Trip Advisor I hopped on to the Hanoi – Ho Ci Minh train, got off at Dong Hoi and spent three nights at the delightful Phong Nha Farmstay, run by an ex-pat Aussie, Ben, his Vietnamese wife Bich and his team of League of Nations helpers.

This was my kind of place!! Of the three nights there, two of the evenings they showed appropriate movies like “Good Morning Vietnam” (particularly poignant after Robin Williams recent death) and “The Quiet American”, which you watched lying on a chaise, beer in hand under the stars. Bliss!

There were also a whole lot of excursions into the caves on offer, and people had raved about the Paradise Caves on Trip Advisor, and I was assured that it was suitable for any age group and any fitness level, and I felt confident that if I strapped up my ankle and with help of my trusted walking pole I should manage just fine. Yeah, right!! This sure tested my comfort zone to its limit!

The first kilometer or so was open to the general public, and was spectacular, after which our little group of ten set off with our headlamps into the dark depths of this 25 km cave system.

To read more from Sybille click here

Monsoon over Laos

Following Sybille on her travels 

And so my 3 weeks in Laos are coming to an end. I have just reserved my seat on the sleeper bus from Luang Prabang to Vinh on the Vietnamese coast, which will be another epic journey of 18 hours +. Experience has taught me that during the rainy season you are wise to add on a few hours to your travels, and be grateful if you survive the trip without major breakdowns or hold-ups.

The same evening I arrived tired and emotional at Don Det Bungalows a tough young Swiss girl had walked past determined to get to her booked accommodation +/- 3 km further south at the tip of the island. Now you must remember, it was pitch dark, drizzling and the path was one mud bath!! Ani, the proprietress of the establishment finally managed to convince the lass that it was sheer madness to carry on, and Jill eventually capitulated and decided to seek shelter here. And with that I had found a travel buddy for the rest of my adventure through this amazing country.

The following day Jill rented a bicycle to get to her original accommodation and explain what had happened and rode through a puddle which was deeper than she thought and ended up submerged in the mud, barely managing to save her heavy carry-on from disaster. She had to shower three times before the green dye from her recently purchased pants was scrubbed off her legs. So, cycling is not such a good idea during monsoon rains! But what is impressive is to explore the myriad of waterfalls around the 4000 Islands.  Khone Phapheng Waterfalls are supposedly the largest in South East Asia by sheer volume and I can believe this.

The Khone Phapheng Waterfalls on the mighty Mekong River Sleeping Quarters

Click here to read more about Sybille’s travels 

Strokes of genius

When a three-year old girl was taught to swim by her cousin in their fishpond, she could not know that she would be swimming in an international Masters competition at the age of 75!

Right: Sisters, Anne, Jane and Sue (neé Roberts) are competing at the World Masters Swimming Championships in Montreal this month.

A local family – the Roberts sisters: Sue, Jane and Anne – competed against the world’s best in their age group in the World Masters Swimming Championships in Montreal, Canada in August – appropriately, the month in which we celebrate women in South Africa.

How did this amazing trio of siblings come to achieve this astounding feat?

Sue Leuner (nee Roberts), fell in love with swimming following her lessons in the fishpond, and was spotted by a coach at a school interhigh gala at the age of 14.  This led to her competing in the Olympics in Melbourne Australia in 1956 at the age of 17, and the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales in 1958.  Sue recalls the rigorous training she underwent:  “The family went on their December holiday and I stayed behind to train at the Hillbrow swimming pool.  We had a coach and trained twice a day – in many ways, we were ahead of the trend that was just taking hold of the world.”

Then, for some years, Sue allowed her swimming talent to lie dormant, despite having achieved her Springbok colours.  Life was full – she was studying at the University of Cape Town, majoring in Social Science in the absence of the availability of her first choice: physiotherapy.  She also found Personnel Management appealing, and discovered that Harvard Business School offered a general course in business administration on their Radcliffe campus in Boston – a one-year programme for women  who, at that time, were excluded from attending the business school.

“Despite having relinquished my swimming career, I was quite envious of my friends who had been involved in something like tennis or hockey – that enabled them to continue enjoying their sport long after we’d given up rather boring training.” she says.

A tumble-turn

A change came about when, in 1994 Sue’s sister, Anne, participated in the world masters swimming championships and urged Sue to go with her to the Pan American Games in Hawaii the next year.  Sue decided to join her in her training regime –they swam in the sea, the lagoon, the pool. But then the Games were cancelled.   Sue was told, “Don’t worry … come to Nelspruit for the SA champs instead!”   What a disappointment – but by that time she was hooked and had her first masters experience.

“I knew then that this was my element, something that just came naturally to me,” she says.

The two sisters went on to compete in the world championships in 1996 in Sheffield,and in Munich in 2000, but that marked the end of Sue’s swimming for that time. Two years ago, Anne (then 66 years of age) started a swimming school at Roedean School in Houghton to train the learners – she started 5:00 and 7:00 classes for the parents, on either side of the 6:00 lesson for the children.  “I joined the 5:00 class and fell in love with swimming again – there is nothing like the feeling of the early morning: the sunrise, with the sound of the birds, and the feel of the warm water,” says Sue.

“When my husband, Rupert, asked what we were doing all this training for, and offered to send us to the international competition which was two years hence, we laughed.  But, with time, the idea grabbed us and about a year ago we established contact with an e-coach in Pretoria, Annemarie Dressler, who sends us schedules by email, and who will be accompanying us to the world championships.”

Annemarie keeps the Roberts ladies exercising: two days of gym and three days of swimming each week.  Annemarie herself is an inspiration, having contracted cancer some years ago, and, determined to be well again, she revolutionised her life by learning about nutrition and exercise, and how the body responds.  She has focused on biokinetics and exercise as one ages, and completed her Masters in this subject at the age of 50. Then the third sister, Jane, decided she wasn’t going to be left out so she started training with Mrs Wendy Ray, swimming in Camps Bay in Cape Town and is doing very well despite not training for swimming since her UCT days.  She is very fit though, even completing the Argus at the age of 70!

What women can achieve

We asked Sue about her goal for the Championships.  “I would love to be in the top three for my events, but definitely hope for top ten medals.   The top 10 swimmers in every category win a medal.  Top ten times each year are available on the internet so I am aware of the times, but not of who will be participating.” Sue has a greater chance of winning a medal, she says, as she is in an older age category, where there is less competition – her sisters will experience a greater challenge!

Sue shared a message for women in particular.  “I am so lucky to have been born a woman – I have avoided the fighting in the marketplace and the  testosterone to get to the top!  Women are extra-ordinarily brave.  My father wanted me to be an engineer, but you must go where your heart is – I loved business. When I returned from Harvard, I joined the IDC (Industrial Development Corporation) at the same time as two men – I was 22 and they were in their late twenties. I knew more about the job than they, but I earned half their salary. This did not bother me as I had already adopted an attitude that recognised that they would probably have this career for the rest of their lives; I, on the other hand, could look forward to a varied life:  marriage, children, and opportunities yet to be discovered.”

Sue and her sisters, Jane Hulley and Anne Jones flew to Montreal on 31 July.  They participated in the all freestyle, 800m, 400m, 200m, 100m and 50m events.  At the time of writing this article, we were awaiting news of their achievements!  As we celebrate women and all they bring to our world, we wish these amazing sisters even greater triumphs going forward!